Interview with George McCadden

(Following is an interview by Dick Harnett with George McCadden at his home in Sonoma, Calif., on Jan. 16, 1996. McCadden joined UP before World War II in San Francisco. During the war he was with the Air Force and rejoined UP in Australia in 1946. He later worked for Hill and Knowlton and for Rupert Murdoch and was the ghost writer of Frank Bartholomew's memoir Bart.. This interview took place when McCadden was on his death-bed. His wife, Hazel, was present.


Harnett: I've talked to Cliff McDowell over in Alameda. He is 90 years old and looks fine.

McCadden: He was at the picnic (most recent Downhold reunion at Bartholomew Park, Sonoma). I didn't know he was 90. I'm 87.

Harnett: Well, you've got a ways to go. Some of the Downholders are 94. Anyway, I had a note from Frank Tremaine and he said, "Talk to McCadden about Australia. There were a lot of things down there McCadden will know that nobody else knows."

McCadden: Well, I can say I had a kind of dream assignment. I was sent down there not primarily as a news correspondent but to open up the territory for retail UP news service. As far as the news side was concerned, the war was over and New York's focus was entirely on Europe and Japan. Australia and that part of the world was considered a backwater, good for the Red Letter (UP's mail service). They were always chintzy about cables. Christ,if I ever cabled I'd get my ears knocked off.

So I got there kind of by accident. I was the chief public relations officer of the Fifth Air Force. From Clark Field (Manila) I managed to get six days of leave with the Royal Australian Air Force in Melbourne. But I developed an ear infection which stretched my visit to about a month. While I'm in Sidney, Frank Bartholomew arrives with Bill Dickinson (another UP executive). The three of us had quite a lot of time together. Bill said one day, "You know, Australia has got a great future. UP should have a bureau here, a permanent one. We should be serving these big newspapers." And they were, competitive, good examples of what democratic newspapers can be. So he said, "George, why don't you get out of the Air Force and stay here."

I said, "How can I do that?" He said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of the Pentagon on that." I said, "Well, I've gone through the war up to now and I think I want to get in on the kill. I'll come down after the armistice."

I might just as well have taken Bill's advice. I was in Tokyo at the surrender and like a goddam fool I didn't go aboard the Missouri because, believe it or not, I didn't think I had enough rank as a captain although I was holding the job of a lieutenant colonel. But my enlisted men all went.

Well, so I was mustered out and I reported for duty to Bartholomew (in San Francisco). While I was in Manila (on the way to San Francisco) I picked up a pile of business cards from a colonel who was head of the Japanese intelligence agency. So when I went to Bart's office I gave his secretary one of these cards and said, "This is for Mr. Bartholomew." She took it in. And out the door, bang, came Bartholomew. We had a laugh on that. Bart said, "I want you in Australia but we have sent Phil Curran down to negotiate a new contract with the Australian Associated Press," the monopoly foreign service there (no relation to the American AP). The AAP did not deal in local news, the newspapers fought among themselves for that. But it brought in wholesale rights to UP and AP and most of the London dailies, the big ones, and Reuters of course. They (AAP) had bureaus in New York and London. Their file was from London of course. They sent everything they could over empire press rates. I think they had a wire from New York to Montreal which enabled them to use empire press rates from Canada.

Harnett: This was an exchange? We got news from them (AAP)?

McCadden: Yes, we did. Our contract called for complete access to all local news, not only in Australia but New Zealand. The AAP office in Sidney provided service to the New Zealand Press Association. Phil negotiated a new contract. He got himself a girlfriend. He said to me, "Look, this is just a caretaker job here. We are never going to crack this. We have a good deal with AAP. You can work as a correspondent." I said, "Like hell!" So I started to work. Phil took his girlfriend on a freighter with six cases of Australian beer, which I helped him carry aboard. His wife (girlfriend?) was a King's Cross tart.

Harnett: He wasn't so young, either, was he?

McCadden: No. So I started moseying around. One day I get a call from David Yaffa, who published the equivalent of Editor and Publisher in Australia, a nice guy, a good guy. He said, "George, I hear you have been making noises about bringing UP here on a retail basis. I want to warn you now you are never going to succeed, never." That got my dander up and I said, "David, you can't bluff me. It's going to happen one way or another, sooner or later."

Harnett: You weren't restricted by the wholesale contracts?

McCadden: No. Well, one thing Curran did do, in addition to renewing the AAP contract, he got talking to Packer, Frank Packer, later Sir Frank, who ran the Daily Telegraph, about bringing in some kind of special service. Bill Dickinson and Bart picked up on that thread and they got back to Packer to the point where he found that he could get around the AAP. And so they discussed with him a 500-word per day cable from New York via Montreal.

Harnett: What paper did Packer have?

McCadden: The Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph. It (the 500-word file) would be delivered directly to the Telegraph. After much fudging around, Bartholomew finally nailed Packer to the wall at a lunch in San Francisco. So the service started. I could see it was absolutely lousy. Joe Jones (UP foreign editor in New York) had picked to run the service a correspondent that the French had kicked out for being too close to the opposition (government). He was an American.

I started sending suggestions on what was to be done. I said the report was too American in viewpoint. These people still tightly clung to the British, and -- what the hell was this guy's name? -- he would write a memorandum to Joe with a copy to me. I never heard anything directly from him. I didn't count. Well, after six weeks, maybe it was only a month, it failed as I predicted. So then Bart came down shortly thereafter and he had lunch with Sir Frank. Then he said to me, "You know, I found a real interest (by Packer in keeping the UP service). How would you do it? I said, "First of all, I wouldn't file it out of New York. I'd file it out of London, and I'd file it directly from London to me and it would come to my office and I would transmit it from there on Western Union teletype to their cable center." And I said, "None of this 500-word crap, just pile it on, good stuff."

You know, I introduced the first Western Electric teletype machines into Australia. I had started using them with the Air Force. The newspapers were all using the English Creed (printer), which ran much slower.

Well, we really scratched around for news. I even asked Pan American to pick up the Honolulu papers and we'd go through them and find an item or two. With this came an agreement for the Telegraph to request special stories. Frank (Packer) loved that. He'd be out diving somewhere and he'd get an idea. He'd get me on the phone and say, "George, we ought to have a damn good special story from you people tomorrow on the shortage of snow at the north pole," or some goddam thing. So Iíd get on the phone and cable to Frank Fisher in London. Frank Fisher was head of the UP there, a truly legendary character, and Frank would look around. Next day Frank (Packer) had probably forgotten it. I spent night after night up there with the (Australian government) cable service, entertaining 'em, you know, and they'd entertain me, and it succeeded. The service was nailed down. I then took it up to Melbourne and called on Sir something, the publisher, a pompous little ass. He was fighting a very losing battle against the Melbourne Age and the Sidney Sun. So I sold him the service and we ran it from our bureau.

Harnett: This was special service for Australia. It didn't compete with the AAP?

McCadden: No. It was something different. We didn't know what the AAP was carrying, generally speaking. Then, of course, that worked fine until the London Daily Mirror bought the Northern Argus from the family which owned it that lived in London.

Harnett: Were they your client?

McCadden: Yes, I sold it, 500 bucks a week. The London Daily Mirror tried to run the Northern Argus from London. It was the goddamndest deal you ever heard of. They had to send the proof sheets back on feature stories for approval. Finally one day I get a call from, I think it was the head of the London Daily Mirror. He called me and told me, "We want to get rid of this goddam service of yours. It's nothing but a kind of pasteover of AAP and we ain't going to be paying you 500 dollars a week for that." And he said, "If you don't drop us, I'm a director of Reuters and we're going to make it so goddam tough for UP in London that you'll wish you never made the deal." So I called Frank Fisher and told him. Frank called Joe Jones. I got an idea. I went over to the Argus and I said, "Look, instead of giving you news, why not pioneer radio pictures in Australia? We'll file from New York or London three or four of the best newspictures of the day." The pictures were filed by radio and picked up by the government service, you know. And they were pretty good. It was successful until the Daily Mirror closed down the Argus. That was the end of the experiment. But meanwhile I had worked as a correspondent and sent a lot of news. I had one little triumph, if I do say. There was a helluva fight in parliament over the "white Australia" policy. This government, the Labor government, under the direction of Immigration Minister Arthur Carwell, was bitterly opposed to letting any Asians into the country. The opposition was more open because they could see business opportunities. Arthur was a very devout Roman Catholic bigot and puritan, and it turned out -- this was 1946 or 1947 -- that there were about a dozen Australian girls in Manila working for the American military and living high off the hog. That infuriated Colwell. Well, the Telegraph and other papers started agitating to have them deported (back to Australia). Colwell wanted them deported, getting them away from these oversexed yanks. Well, as I recall, he succeeded. And one day in my office I see one of them. She had married an American Air Force pilot in Manila. I broke the story, and of course it caused a helluva uproar. How the hell could you deport an American citizen? She said to me, "My problem is that I can't get in touch with my husband. He won't reply to my letters. I don't even know where he is." I said, "We'll fix that. So we got on the Pentagon to locate him. He was on the Berlin airlift.

Harnett: Remember the name?

McCadden: No.

Harnett: He was gone, on the other side of the world, he was in Europe.

McCadden: And he didn't want any part of her. She came to the office a second time. She had all her teeth pulled out and plates put in. I'm trying to remember now. I think the Air Force flew her to Berlin.

Harnett: They must have thought it was a legitimate marriage.

McCadden: It was decided they would get a divorce. She telephoned him from my office. Another reporter was there.

Harnett: Good story.

McCadden: Yeah. And I did a series by mail on the "white Australia" policy, its origins, its historical origins, what it meant. It was very impartial, didn't really favor the government. I sent it to all the Asian bureaus and I said let me have clippings. I got a whole stack of them, including one from El Alam, Cairo. So the question came up in the question period (in parliament), about the "white Australia" policy. And Arthur (Colwell] had a bunch of those clips and he flashed them around. "Here is the first intelligent, objective report on what the hell this policy is all about. It was written by Mr. McCadden, who lives here."

Long before I got there Bartholomew or British United Press sold a news service to Ezra Norton, who ran the Sidney Daily Mirror, a tabloid of a lemon stripe, very successful. It was very anti-establishment. It hated the English like poison because Ezra was an Irishman. His father had established the paper and they used to write some of the best goddam rabble-rousing editorials. I was very friendly with him because they picked up the service in New York. They filed it through Montreal. That was the easy way to do it. And of course they had a much larger file. They were a pain in the ass to the establishment because they had this exclusively. They weren't in the AAP.

Harnett: The Mirror?

McCadden: They also had INS. Well, what happened then? I thought, "Why the hell shouldn't we bring in our own report?" (rather than go through AAP). So I went over to the Postmaster General (Australian official in charge of communications) and said, "Look. We've got all this wordage flying around in the air. Why the hell can't we pick it up and use it?" He said, "Well. We'd have to think about that." There was a Bermuda Conference in 1945 attended by Harry Flory. Harry was able to get through the British unions whereby they would license private reception for so much per hour or something like that. But their operators would have to copy it. It was a horseshit deal.

Harnett: How did that tie in with the Sidney Mirror?

McCadden: They were getting their stuff through the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. So I went down there [to Australia] in 1947, and in 1950 I wangled a trip back to New York and eventually to London. while I'm in New York there was a fantastic communications crash between London and the dominions. I forget what it was, a cable broke. When the natural condition eased traffic resumed. So, I'm in New York. I cabled Eric Riel, who was sitting in for me. I said, "Start buying service from Overseas Telecommunications Service (the government agency). And so he did, and he found out they couldn't do it for him. They had automated their domestic telegraph system so long before that there were no operators left. They were using two operators together on a shift, each alternating for 15 minutes, and the copy was terrible. I complained. So I get a phone call from Jim Malone. He was chairman of the Overseas Telegraph Communications Commission, and a dear friend. He and I go over to see the Postmaster General, who says: "Look here, McCadden, we're anxious to get rid of this goddam nuisance that you've stuck on us. I'll give you a license (to receive radio transmissions) for five pounds. So we got a license to copy our own stuff. I hired a bright young telegraph operator from the OTC by the name of Gordon Waterhouse. He was smart. Waterhouse got an English receiver. We hooked up an aerial on the roof of the building and we managed to bring in some news. So then I persuaded Joe Jones to let us put up our own receiving station, what the hell. I found Waterhouse and we took my car with various meters and found the most favorable place, which was right alongside the Seventh Day Adventist's college I guess, seminary or something. It was quite an establishment and right alongside it was the perfect site (for our radio receiver). Gordon said we would need four towers about 40 feet high. So I leased the area from them, but only after having lunch with the elders of the church. I was very wary because I had been warned no smoking, no liquor on your breath and there is no coffee and no tea. So I made a plea to them to lease and they agreed.

Harnett: Was it easy to get the money out of UP to do that?

McCadden: Well, I was bringing in a lot of money. We couldn't get it out of the country because the British had clamped down an imperial freeze. All the dollars went to London and they allocated it. Norton blew his stack over that. So money was piling up and I got the station.

Harnett: Who was Norton?

McCadden: Norton of the Daily MirrorDaily Mirror, since they were getting UP news in New York or London, one of those places. Well, the service was running all right and I'm trying to remember now. Norton brought over from London his celebrated London manager, Eric something-or-other, who was quite famous as an Australian correspondent in London. He made a habit of sleeping with ladyships of one kind or another and then was with a well-known lady. He was an arrogant bastard. I took him to lunch at the American National Club one day. He said, "George, if you can get me past what I know would be a blackball and get me into the American National Club, I'll buy your goddam service."

Harnett: He was a Londoner, wasn't he?

McCadden: He was an Australian, rambunctious, flamboyant. I told him to get stuffed. Eventually we made a deal with him. But then, the next thing. I had left the UP (and wanting to get back to it). Frank Bartholomew wanted me to come to Los Angeles and take charge of the radio and fledgling TV thing.

Harnett: In the 50s?

McCadden: 1956. Well, I had a proposition with (Joe) Jones and I did earn a fair amount of money down there on commission. And I had everything in place and had already been there (Australia). Harnett: Somebody told me that's what UP did, once you started making money they transferred you.

McCadden: So I decided to stay in Australia. Which was a mistake.

Harnett: You went to work for Murdoch?

McCadden: No, I took a job with Hill and Knowlton.

Harnett: Advertising?

McCadden: They sent a guy out. Caltex was a combination of Standard Oil of California and Texaco. It operated only in the eastern hemisphere. They had struck oil way up in Western Australia and the continent went crazy.

Harnett: What was the deal with UP? Was Eric Riel working with you?

McCadden: Eric was working for me.

Harnett: Did you have much staff?

McCadden: Maybe one other. And of course Australia never found oil. It fizzled out. But the parent companies were fearful that they would come under terrible public opprobrium so they hired Hill and Knowlton to go down to see what could be done. Of course they headed straight for me. I was probably one of the best known Americans in Australia. I told them, "Christ, you better establish an office here." They said, "All right, how about you taking it? We'll give you $12,000 a year." So like a goddam fool I took it. I didn't get much out of it. I got to Western Australia, got to see the Outback. I worked with oil drillers.

Harnett: When did Pete Gruening get down there? Remember him?

McCadden: Pete succeeded me. I'll tell you that story too. Bart was so exercised (about my going with H&K) that he came down and tried to talk me out of it. I felt committed, but it was a mistake. Bart said, "Donít worry, I'll fix it (with H&K). I stayed, and I got fed up with it and resigned in 1956. I had resigned from UP in 1954. I went back to New York and tried to get back into UP, but there was too much seniority and all that. Bart offered me the Las Vegas job and I turned that down. One other thing happened. When I joined Hill and Knowlton and Bart came down to preside over transition for management of the bureau, he said, "Who the hell are we going to bring in?" I said, "Why don't we get Pete Gruening over in Singapore? I hear he doesn't like it there?" So we had Pete fly over and take over. Pete had a very tragic...

Harnett: Why did he kill himself, or did he kill himself?

McCadden: He did kill himself. He overspent his expense account, way over. He was in deep debt. He owed the company $7,000. The climax came when Sir Frank Packer hosted a reception for the entire press union, all the delegates from all over. Pete was not invited. He called Frank and asked why he wasn't invited. Frank said: "I don't like you, that's why." That triggered it. He (Pete) drove his car up in the woods, hooked a hose to the tailpipe and killed himself.

Harnett: Was he married, or did he have women?

McCadden: He did. The guy was mentally unstable.

Harnett: He was the son of the governor of Alaska, right?

McCadden: That's right. While he was in Honolulu for a while he married a shirttail Roosevelt and she was a disaster. He finally got rid of her. He goes to Australia and does the same goddam thing. He picked a woman who was an heiress to a very considerable women's clothing fortune and she was as nutty as a fruitcake. I don't think they had any children. But that broke him.


To go to Part II, click here.